By Dave Regan and Ashley Swearengin.
Like many leaders from different parties, we often disagree. A labor leader from Berkeley and a former Republican mayor from Fresno simply see things from different perspectives.
But, like many Californians, we can agree on some of the biggest challenges that will determine the future of California – and we agree it is time to forge real solutions.
We concur that the high cost of living in California is forcing some Californians to move out of the state and is dooming more Californians to a life of poverty among plenty.
We aren’t alone in that belief. In a recent poll for the California Issues Forum, 81 percent of Californians said they believe that housing prices are forcing people to leave. That overwhelming majority was also bipartisan – 93 percent of Republicans and 73 percent of Democrats.
Similarly, 73 percent of Californians believe the high cost of living in California is significantly increasing the poverty rate – 80 percent of Republicans and 69 percent of Democrats.
Some 18 million Californians—practically half of us – live in or near the poverty line. These are complex issues that require sophisticated solutions. But the basic math is simple, and most Californians get it. The jobs that could pay a mortgage are decreasing as fast as the prices for homes are increasing.
California is of course not alone in this situation. And as we see across the nation, economic insecurity has the potential to divide us politically, not just socially and economically.
Moreover, the federal government was never going to solve this problem for us, no matter who occupied the White House. As Californians, we control most of the public policies and investments that will determine whether the situation gets better or worse.
And since California is still considered a pioneer, our success could inspire a different course for the nation.
We first acknowledge that we are not just a blue state in a red nation. Looking inward, we are a blue-red state with an increasing percentage of citizens looking past political parties for pragmatic solutions in sync with shared values. Among them: a fair shot at a good education, a decent job, an affordable home and a tolerable commute.
The polling suggests that elected leaders of all shades need to respond more assertively to the priorities of the majority – to grow middle-class jobs and to increase the supply of housing, for example.
To help elected officials to do their jobs, leaders in the private and civic sectors need to work together, to find agreement – to encourage and expect and then to accept pragmatic compromise. Business isn’t evil. Labor isn’t the enemy. Government isn’t the problem.
For the last five years, we have worked as co-chairs of the California Economic Summit to provide a venue where diverse leaders can define and advance a comprehensive Roadmap to Shared Prosperity. We are making meaningful progress. But these are tough issues and we have a long way to go.
We are inspired that a cross-section of leaders in San Diego has come together to host the 2017 Summit on November 2 and 3. Scores of Summit participants are working now – coordinated by California Forward and the California Stewardship Network – so they can report as much progress as possible in San Diego.
The Summit’s workforce action team was instrumental in developing the new $200-million Strong Workforce Program. The focus now is helping community colleges align with local and regional employers to provide the skills that are the only hope for a middle class job for millions of Californians.
Investing in workforce programs, it turns out, is the most popular policy response tested in the California Issues Form poll; 88 percent of Californians support workforce training for jobs in the new economy. But much more must change if new investments are going to result in more graduates earning higher pay.
The Summit’s focus on regional economies, healthy watersheds and sustainable communities contributed to the creation of Enhanced Infrastructure Financing Districts. Action teams are now identifying state policy changes to encourage cost-effective and integrated infrastructure projects.
The Summit even has taken on the heaviest lift – the extreme housing shortage that is hurting the poor, the working poor, and even the young talent lured by the most innovative companies. Developers, environmental and social equity groups have contributed to a comprehensive framework that is now mirrored in the Governor’s housing principles. We need to work hard to build political support for the proposals so elected leaders can forge a compromise too big to block by narrow interest groups.
We are not close to solving the problems that large majorities say are their top priorities.
We are not going to regulate the resurrection of middle class jobs. We need to keep investments flowing into the innovation economy, the creative economy, the production economy, the trade economy, the recreation economy.
Some 8 percent of 18- to 39-year-olds believe the high cost of living – that is, housing – is driving people to other states. Solve that problem or California’s competitive edge in the global economy evaporates.
And we will not close any of the tragic gaps – skills, jobs, income, insurance, health outcomes, retirement security – without building adequate, efficient and accountable education pipelines for everyone who still believes in the California Dream.
Dave Regan is president of SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW).
Ashley Swearengin is president and CEO of the Central Valley Community Foundation and the former mayor of Fresno.